When heading Down Under, it's tempting to try and see everything. A family wisely decides to take it easy instead
Lucy told us that James, who spent the summer as a short-order cook, has a passion for food: "On his 10th birthday, his uncle started taking him on food-themed trips -- to Kansas City for barbecue, to New Orleans for Cajun, to Vancouver for Chinese." Thanks to a wave of immigration from eastern Asia, Australia's main cities host neighborhoods with authentic restaurants and grocery stores dealing in types of produce that James would never encounter in Illinois. Sydney's Chinatown, which is really more like a pan-Asian district, is just west of the main commuter-train station. The best bet for exotic cuisine in Melbourne is Victoria Street, a five-minute tram ride northwest of downtown. In both areas, James can take his pick of Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Chinese food. "We definitely have to go there, then," said James.
We also tipped off James about a couple of places to eat that are cherished by Sydneysiders. Bills is a homey, open-kitchen restaurant run by Bill Granger, a local celebrity whose cookbooks are best sellers. Breakfast is served at a communal dining table; the ricotta hotcakes are light and sweet, and the scrambled eggs are the world's creamiest. Doyles, on the sand in ritzy Watsons Bay, is famous for its fish, especially barramundi and John Dory. Getting there is part of the fun -- from downtown Sydney they'll board a commuter ferry and take in the most spectacular harbor in the world for $8 each, round trip. We recommended they come for lunch -- the last ferry leaves Watsons Bay at about 6 p.m.
The Millmans didn't need help with accommodation for most of their trip. Gary's employer was handling the hotel near Sydney, their friend would put them up in Brisbane, and they had taken care of reservations at Heron Island.
The only place where they needed lodging advice was Melbourne. There are good values in the city's center -- the Travelodge and the Ibis, for example, are in well-located high-rises with terrific views. Another lodging category that's popular Down Under is the apartment hotel. It operates just like a standard hotel, with similar amenities (concierges, fitness centers), but units come with an extra sleeping area (for James) and a kitchen (also for James).
A handful of apartment-hotel chains operate across the country, and each one has a presence in Melbourne's CBD, or central business district. They include Saville Suites, Medina, Quest, and Quay West. This lodging category is so popular that it's even been invaded by independent boutiques. In Melbourne, The Lyall is a luxury apartment hotel with a spa and champagne bar. Since the drinking age is 18, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity for James to sample his first legal alcoholic drink under the watchful eye of his parents. We imagine the Millmans raising flutes of Vintage Brut, made by local vineyard Chandon, and toasting their easy-paced trip Down Under.